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Bike to Work: Decatur residents take challenge

From left, Paul Lantinga of Decatur Bikes and Tracie Sanchez of Decatur Active Living are part of a team participating in the metro Atlanta Bike to Work challenge. Photos by Andrew Cauthen

For 40-year-old Joseph Palmeri, biking the 10 miles back and forth from his home in Decatur to his job in Atlanta is a way to get exercise.

Palmeri, who has lived in the Medlock community for approximately five years, is a quality specialist for The Coca Cola Co. in Atlanta. A cyclist for more than 20 years, Palmeri is in his second year biking to work.

“My wife started doing it about three years ago and she said a lot of good things about it, so I just took an old mountain bike of mine and set it up to bike [to work],” said Palmeri, whose wife, Katie Lowry, bikes 10 miles to work at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Other benefits include a decreased stress level since he doesn’t have to drive in the traffic,” he said.

“And you’re not spending money on gas,” Palmeri said. “You’re not putting the miles on your vehicle.”

Two to three times a week, Palmeri bikes to work between 5 to 6 a.m. “So it’s dark of course.” He returns home between 4 to 5 p.m.

He takes the PATH most of the way, with four or five blocks on the streets, he said.

“In the mornings it’s not so bad because there are not a lot of cars out yet, but in the afternoon, that first mile until I get to the PATH, it’s just pretty scary because I’m surrounded by buses and lots of people trying to get to the interstate,” Palmeri said.

Those considering biking to work should do their homework to make sure the route is safe, he said.

“And consider things like showers at work,” Palmeri said. “Where I work we have an exercise facility that has showers, so I can take a shower after I get in. So if you don’t have that, you’ve got to consider whether you want to be a little dirty all day.

“If you’re going to be riding in the dark, you’re going to want to do some research on good lights and reflection,” he said.

“It’s an experiment so I would suggest that if you’ve never done it before to try one day a week or two days a week to see how it works, because you may change a lot of things along the way,” Palmeri said. “I’ve changed bikes several times. I’ve changed gear a lot. I’ve learned to lighten up the load quite a bit, because Atlanta is not flat at all.”

Palmeri said cyclists with longer commutes will probably want to get a better performing bike.

“If you’re riding an hour or so on a bike and you’ve got a cheap bike that’s not going to hold up and you get stranded out there or it just doesn’t feel good, you’re going to regret it,” said Palmeri whose trek is approximately 45 minutes.

Last year, more than 1,000 metro Atlanta commuters participated in the first-ever Bike to Work Challenge. More than 17,000 bike trips were logged, eliminating some 130,000 miles of car travel from the road and 64 tons of pollution from the air. This month, bicycle commuters, new and seasoned, can cycle their way to work and compete for prizes in the second annual Bike to Work Challenge.

Organized by the Georgia Department of Transportation, The Clean Air Campaign, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Atlanta Regional Commission and local transportation management associations, the second annual Bike to Work Challenge gives commuters the opportunity to compete as individuals or teams. By registering at www.atlbiketowork.org, participants can log their bicycle commute trips, track their progress and compete for prizes.

“A growing number of Atlantans are interested in biking to work, whether it’s a single ride or by connecting with transit,” said Tedra Cheatham, executive director of The Clean Air Campaign. “Bicycling to work can free you from traffic and provide many health benefits. Last year, both new and veteran bicycle commuters came out in full force and proved that Atlanta has a strong biking culture. We hope to see even greater participation this year.”

Individuals and teams of two to five people will earn points throughout the month of October by riding their bikes to work, attending instructional bike classes and submitting photos from their biking trips during an online Facebook contest. Participants can track their progress against leaderboards throughout the month. Top individual and team winners will be announced on Nov. 4. Prizes include Patagonia rain jackets and more.

As an extra incentive for new cyclists, participants who try a bike commute for the first time will get bonus points. Plus, all teams are required to have at least one new cyclist.

Tracie Sanchez, the adult programs leader for Decatur Active Living, has a five-mile roundtrip daily bike commute.

Sanchez is part of Decatur Active Living Wheels, a Bike to Work team that includes Zach Ray of the City of Decatur planning department; Laura Gary of Renfroe Middle School; Arlana Nicholas of Decatur Active Living; and Paul Lantinga of Decatur Bikes.

Sanchez has been biking to work for 25 years.

“It started college in Athens,” said Sanchez, who took cycling as a physical education class in college. “A college campus is a little bubble. I learned it was really easy to get around.”

Her bike and the transit bus system “solved me getting everywhere I needed to be,” she said.

She sold her car and didn’t buy another one for a decade.

“If you can put your life, your home and your work in a two- or three-mile radius, then you can do most of that by either public transit or by bike or a combination.”

Sanchez said her reasons for biking have changed over time.

“In college it was about a budget—economical, sell that car, a bike’s cheaper,” she said. “Then you leave college and you’re not playing sports with the school any more. Then it was about being healthy and getting exercise and just continuing a sport.

“I don’t know when this happened or when it changed for me, but I began to hate what driving does to people,” Sanchez said. “A really nice neighbor that you know transforms when they get behind the wheel of a car in a city like Atlanta. There are people I don’t want to be on the road with. I hate driving.”

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